After Flaming Lips frontman Wayne Coyne and multi-instrumentalist Steven Drozd came up with what would be the title track to their forthcoming album, Oczy Mlody, Coyne wondered if they could make an album that had a similar vibe to that song, which he says had "a kind of mellow suspension about it.” That vibe created an atmosphere to work in and set the tone for the rest of the project.
“It’d be like showing up on a movie set and you’re already in outer space,” Coyne says. “It’s easy to pretend that you’re there if it’s already happening. We do that a lot with our music: kind of build an atmosphere that already has an evocative, emotional element to it, and you just begin to shape it a little bit. A lot of those things just happen by accident.”
The title track of Oczy Mlody started as an accident of sorts in early 2015, when Coyne, Drozd and engineer Dennis Coyne (Wayne’s nephew) were in the studio in between sessions while working with Miley Cyrus on her album Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz.
“It was just this little thing,” Coyne says of the track. Usually, if I’m playing, it’s on a keyboard that will have a beat attached to the keys. There’s a beat going, and you can play in time with the beats. I’m not a very good musician. I can play some things. I can’t really play that much. And I was sort of playing this sort of rhythm, and Steven was messing around with these little delays on this really sort of magical mixture of a piano and a bell sound. And we just sort of hovered there in this little area for probably ten minutes or so. It sort of goes in and out, like, 'Ooh, that’s magic. Oh, no, that’s not. That’s magic again.'"
The album has an enchanted, mystical quality about it that Coyne has described as “Syd Barrett meets A$AP Rocky and they get trapped in a fairy tale from the future.” While the band might have one foot in the past, “there’s one foot that’s got to be in the fucking weird-ass fucking future,” he says.
Coyne, who turns 56 on January 13 (the same day Oczy Mlody is set for release), is the oldest member of the group and says that the members try to remember that they came from a time whose music is now considered classic rock.
“It wasn’t classic when we were listening to it," he says. "It was just whatever it was. We understand that we could be influenced by a group like Can or Pink Floyd or something, but I meet people all the time who have no idea who those groups are, even though to us they feel like, ‘How could you not know who they are?’”
Coyne says being around Cyrus and her producer Mike Will (Michael Len Williams II), and “being inundated and overwhelmed and just being absorbed into this other world” changed the band a lot, and it changed the mechanism of their brains. The older music is still deeply embedded in the members of the band, but newer music has worked its way in, as well.
“And I think that’s a great relief,” Coyne says. “Now I hear new rap music and it doesn’t feel that foreign to me. I very much relate to and very much love the weirdness of the way that they’re putting their tracks together. There’s that new Rae Sremmurd song, that ‘Black Beatles’ song, that you hear everywhere, and it’s just so perfect, even though it really is weird as fuck. That’s just the evolution of how pop and rap and that kind of production has happened. I mean, I just love it. But I think it’s because, little by little, I’ve been exposed to more and more of it, and now I really have absorbed it.
“So that’s what I think we’re getting at. It’s like if you know who Syd Barrett is, you may not know who A$AP Rocky is, but there are people out there that have the mind and, I think, the ability to like something like that. And we know that we like all that, and we’re always like that.”
Coyne says the Flaming Lips will perform some songs from Oczy Mlody, possibly songs that have already been released on video, like "How??," "Sunrise (Eyes of the Young)" and "The Castle," at the band’s Thursday, December 29, show at the 450-person Belly Up Aspen, a much more intimate place than the 9,500-seat amphitheater at Red Rocks, the band's usual venue.
“The reason that we like having the big show is sometimes you’re playing big places and you’ve got to bring all this exciting stuff so that people aren’t just sitting there in some big grey room,” Coyne says. “So I think with the Belly Up, we do sometimes squish a lot of crazy stuff in there. Since it’s not that big, you don’t really have to worry about filling it up with too much stuff, because everybody in there can see your hands and your shoes and your face. It isn’t the same as being so distanced in a bigger place — playing a big festival where a lot of the audience can’t really see you anyway unless you have big video screens and stuff going on.”
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Coyne says there was a time when the band had never been to Aspen, and that they only knew about it from reading about Hunter S. Thompson.
“When Michael [Belly Up owner Goldberg} started to urge us to play his club, I think at the beginning, we didn’t want to,” Coyne says. “That’s not really our vibe. But because he’s the way he is, he’s persistent, and then we did end up doing a New Year’s Eve show there. I think it was the first thing that we did. And then once we knew him and saw what it was about, we sort of fell in love with Aspen and being there — but it’s mostly him and his family and the way that they do things. We love Aspen, too, but only love Aspen because we get to be there with him.”
The Flaming Lips perform at the Belly Up Aspen on Thursday, December 29; tickets are $95-$350.